Opportunities for giving to grow and for philanthropy to lead

By: Jack Heath   |   CEO, Philanthropy Australia   |   https://www.philanthropy.org.au/

At the heart of the welcome news that the nation’s philanthropy showed admirable resilience during the COVID-19 pandemic, is the realisation that recent economic data points to a challenging period for giving in the immediate years ahead. Rising inflation and increasing interest rates represent difficulties that will impact everyone, from governments, to business, and households. In such an environment, governments become risk-averse: caution becomes a by-word of doing business in such a climate, especially for a government trying to manage a large deficit. But those circumstances represent an opportunity for philanthropy to show leadership, to step into the breach, and amplify its unique virtues – to take risks, to innovate, to collaborate and build connections that help shift perceptions and drive change.

Central to that, is Philanthropy Australia’s goal to double giving by 2030, by which time an unprecedented $1.1 trillion is set to pass from baby boomers to the next generation. 

Accessing 10 per cent of this wealth for philanthropy, would add $110 billion to addressing our most significant societal challenges. 

The latest research on the nation’s top 50 philanthropists – compiled by Philanthropy Australia board member and co-founder of JBWere Philanthropic Services John McLeod in the Australian Financial Review – shows that the 2020-21 total giving pool was $942 million, only marginally below the previous year’s record. On that evidence, there is potential to increase giving, across corporate Australia and in local communities.

One of the key drivers behind this understanding of what a more generous Australia looks like, is the role business is playing in responding to employee expectations about their desire to give, in whatever form that takes.

To explore that trend further, we can track changes in attitudes towards business captured in the 2022 Edelman Trust Barometer. It shows business and the non-government sector each has the same level of trust (58 per cent), and both are a long way in front of government and the media among the four institutions surveyed.

Trust is an important indicator of engagement, and the Trust Barometer points to corporate Australia’s awareness of what their stakeholders expect from them when it comes to supporting giving, especially younger employees with an agenda for change.

How corporate Australia balances these expectations with challenging economic circumstances will be a telling pointer as to how robust our generosity is during the next few years.  

Philanthropy is already demonstrating what it can do, to identify fresh ways of responding to the situation. As former Microsoft executive and venture capitalist Daniel Petre explained in the AFR last week, despite some extraordinary individual acts of philanthropy, there is still resistance among some of Australia’s ultra-high net wealth individuals to grow their philanthropy to reflect their increasing wealth. We need to inspire more of these people to give and for that they could do well to consider what their peers are doing.

And Petre has decided to address the issue head on by establishing StartUpGiving to help Australian tech founders embark on their philanthropic journey. Similarly, the former head of Philanthropic Services at the Myer Family Company, Peter Winneke is working on an Australian version of the global Giving Pledge that invites high net wealth individuals to give away 20 per cent during their life or upon their death.

These initiatives are at the heart of helping our culture of giving to evolve, with the goal of lifting philanthropy’s capacity to impact on some of the nation’s most vexing problems.

There is also a huge opportunity for philanthropy to grow local giving through community foundations. This year’s Federal Budget announced long-sought changes that will help transform community foundations and the people they support. (The ALP has committed to matching the changes should it win office later this month.) This local focus is a serendipitous piece of timing – if the pandemic showed us anything, it was how important, supporting and nourishing our local community can be. We were all local first when it came to COVID-19.

Now, with these changes, there is a launching pad for community foundations to expand their role, to explore how locals can best support locals, in innovative ways.

Importantly, this local focus also provides a pathway to closer and deeper engagement between First Nations peoples and more recent arrivals. It brings with it the possibility of genuine dialogue and reconnection with our common humanity – an invitation extended to all Australians by the Uluru Statement from the Heart.  It presents a leadership opportunity for Australian philanthropy that has never existed before.  And if Australian philanthropy chooses to take on this responsibility, we would be well on our way to a generous and inclusive Australia. 

May. 06, 2022

Philanthropy Weekly Newsletter

Sign up to our weekly e-newsletter for sector news, expert opinion and resources.

Sign up here